The Catholic University of America

L-R: Catholic University law professor Marshall Breger; Laura MacCleery, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law; and William McGinley, a specialist in political law issues with Patton Boggs LLP.

Campaign Reform or Campaign Ruin? The Debate Continues

The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, more commonly known the McCain-Feingold Act after its Senate sponsors, has regulated American elections for more than six years.

Apparently, that's not long enough to settle arguments over whether the intended reform measure is a boon or a bust.

Debaters squared off anew over the subject at a Jan 23 forum sponsored by the Catholic University Law Review. "The Future of Election Law: The Changing Roles of Campaign Finance and Lobbyist Contributions" explored campaign finance and lobbyist contributions, evaluated their legal implications, and invited participants to explore how these issues will evolve in the future.

McCain-Feingold took aim at the increased role of "soft" money in campaign financing by prohibiting national political party committees from raising or spending any funds not subject to federal limits, even for state and local races or issue discussion. The law also banned some types of broadcast ads that name a federal candidate within 60 days of a general election, depending on where the money to pay for the ad came from.

The first of two afternoon panels was moderated by CUA law professor Marshall Breger and featured Laura MacCleery, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, and William McGinley, a specialist is political law issues with Patton Boggs LLP.

MacCleery said that although not perfect, McCain-Feingold has largely succeeded in what it set out to do. It has invited what she called "micro-donors," citizens who contribute less than $200 to campaigns, back into the election process in large numbers, and added transparency to the whole political funding process.

McGinley took a very different view. The federalizing of campaign contribution rules at every level down to state and local races has made the process of participating so complicated and fraught with legal danger that volunteers stay away in droves, he said. It also discourages young politicians from launching their careers, he believes.

"We need to focus on these farm teams at the state and local level," said McGinley. "That's where the country's future leaders are coming from."

The afternoon's second panel was moderated by Professor Robert Destro and featured Todd Cranford of Patton Boggs LLP and Craig Holman of Public Citizen. It discussed North Carolina's Campaign Contribution Prohibition, which imposes a year-round prohibition on certain campaign contributions by lobbyists.

The symposium began with a lunch featuring a keynote address by Jan Witold Baran of Wiley Rein LLP, one of the nation's leading attorney-experts on campaign and election law.